On Saturday afternoon the news leaked that Jon Jones and Ciryl Gane would be fighting at UFC 285 on March 5th for the vacant heavyweight title. That left some questions regarding the status of Francis Ngannou, the current UFC heavyweight champion. Dana White cleared those up at a press conference following UFC Vegas 67.
“We are going to release him from his contract,” White said. “We are giving up the right to match. He can go wherever he wants and do whatever he wants. We offered Ngannou a deal that would make him the highest paid Heavyweight of all time. He turned it down.”
What a strange thing for someone to do! Why would Francis Ngannou turn down more money than any UFC heavyweight has ever been offered? Until “The Predator” comes out with a statement of his own, we only have his past words regarding UFC contracts to go by. Fortunately (or unfortunately), he has had a lot to say about the unfair structure of his last UFC deal over the past few years.
The biggest and most obvious stumbling block between Ngannou and the UFC was Francis’ desire to box.
“[Boxing] is something that I’m not taking my eyes off,” Ngannou said in an interview with TMZ Sports from January 2022. “This is going to happen either way, and even if I stay — even if or when the UFC and I, we finally, we finalize a deal, the boxing part has to be into it, because I can’t see myself to retire without boxing.”
For a hot minute there was a whole lot of talk that Francis Ngannou would box Tyson Fury. Fury even invited Ngannou into the ring to promote the potential fight following his win over Dillian Whyte in April 2022. Then ... radio silence. It’s still unclear whether that’s a result of Tyson Fury losing interest in the match-up, or the UFC threatening to sue the two men for tortuous interference.
Even if Fury is no longer a possibility, there’s also Deontay Wilder. Wilder is more of a brawler and may be seen as a more realistic opponent for the heavy-handed but green boxing novice Ngannou. Both Francis and Deontay have expressed interest in fighting each other.
The highest paid heavyweight in the history of the UFC was Brock Lesnar, who earned a disclosed purse of $2.5 million plus an unknown amount of pay-per-view money for his UFC 200 fight against Mark Hunt. It’s estimated that in the end he made $5 - $7 million for that event, which pulled in $71 million off 1.2 million PPV buys.
Compare that to Deontay Wilder and Tyson Fury, who made a guaranteed $5 million each plus a percentage of PPV profits in their second fight. That event sold roughly $64 million in PPVs off 800,000 buys. Wilder and Fury walked away with $25 million each from that fight.
With the UFC, fighters are making a much lower guaranteed purse and getting a much smaller piece of the pay-per-view pie. Often it’s just two to three dollars per PPV above a couple hundred thousand buys. In boxing, the star attractions take the majority of the pay-per-view earnings. Even making the most any UFC heavyweight has made, Ngannou still stands to make twice as much in a single boxing bout.
Another factor to consider: in the UFC, you almost never get PPV points unless you’re the champion. It’s extremely rare that it works any other way, and if Ngannou were to lose then he drops back down to his base show and win money. Given Stipe Miocic holds the longest heavyweight title reign in the UFC with three consecutive defenses, you need to take into consideration what the deal is worth in the long term, under realistic circumstances.
There’s other issues as well: Ngannou was extremely unhappy with the level of inactivity forced upon him by the UFC over the past few years. He fought just once a year through 2020 and 2021 despite being healthy and wanting to compete.
“2 title fights in the UFC heavyweight division for the past two years and yet we don’t know if there will be another one anytime soon,” he wrote in October 2020, adding the hashtag #ThisIsSucks. “I fought once for 20 seconds in the last 16 months.”
Ngannou believed the UFC was refusing to give him fights because he wasn’t willing to sign a new multi-fight deal with them.
“That’s what is causing all these issues: because I don’t want to sign a new deal on certain terms,” he said a year later in October 2021. “I don’t feel protected in those terms — in the past two years I fought twice and I have to borrow money to live. Nobody cares about that. I have no guarantee and I have no protection, so based on that experience I want to get something better, better terms on my contract, and obviously paid what I deserve.”
Ngannou added that the treatment he’d received from UFC brass was also a factor. Before creating an interim heavyweight title between Ciryl Gane and Derrick Lewis, the promotion suggested Francis was unwilling to fight when in truth he was stuck in Cameroon waiting for a visa renewal. It’s just one of several tales “The Predator” has told that would make anyone reconsider signing another one-sided contract with the UFC.
We’re sure Francis Ngannou will be coming forward with his own statement on the current situation and what’s next for him. But for now, that’s what has happened between the UFC and their former heavyweight champion that has gotten us to this point.